Katie’s House: Beginnings

Red House OregonThinking about our red house in Eugene, Oregon (Portland’s smaller – more hippie less hip – sister to the south) gives me a happy feeling. We moved in almost two years ago; this is our second spring, and I find myself looking eagerly for each blooming flower—the colors of which were such a fun discovery last year.

That crazy gold azalea was a lovely spring surprise

That crazy gold azalea was a lovely spring surprise

We have made few changes in the time we’ve lived here. The single thing I felt we had to do to before we moved in was paint over the virulent shade of green (Dill Pickle, by Benjamin Moore) that coated the family room’s walls. Otherwise, things were lovely, and I was more scared of ruining a beautiful house than I was of it not reflecting our taste and needs.

The gargantuan purple rhododendron (why is that word so hard to spell?) on the side of the house.

The gargantuan purple rhododendron on the side of the house.

Before we bought this house, we were living in a little house that Cameron – my husband – already owned. It was great house for us, and a great place to hone some diy skills. We took down a kitchen wall. We installed hardwood floors. We replaced a bedroom window with French doors. We painted the entirety of the large, high-ceilinged great room the color of pantyhose and, after a week of trying to rationalize and ignore the sick, uncomfortable way it made us both feel, we painted over it. We removed truckloads of sod and put in a garden. We made the house work for us but, as Cameron so eloquently put it, we were polishing a turd. It was a cheaply built 1980s ranch with popcorn ceilings and almost no yard. I love the changes we made, but it didn’t feel like a forever home. More like a launchpad.

We started house hunting when the housing market was just ascending from its lowest point, and foreclosures were epidemic. It seemed like houses would sell within minutes of going on the market and there was a frantic tenor to our hunt. The same houses would reappear on the market just months later, sporting ‘improvements’ like a paint job and the ubiquitous speckled granite counters, and a price increase of thirty thousand dollars or more. We couldn’t justify paying so much for something that had no value for us, and we started to get frustrated. In our frustration, we put an offer on a house that was totally wrong for us (although it did have a hidden staircase that I’ll replicate somewhere, someday) just because no one else had and we were worried that in the time it took for us to decide if we liked it someone else would swoop it up. House buying is so weird! It’s an enormous amount of money and an enormous decision that can inform so much of your life, but the decision often needs to be made quickly, without the hours, days, weeks of dithering and pros and cons lists and daydreaming that such a big purchase should necessitate. We were able to back out of buying the house whose only redeeming quality was its hidden staircase (which led, by the way, into an illegal and mostly unusable second floor space) and then we looked at remediated meth houses, at a home with mold so thick my throat hurt the whole day after we toured it, at darling houses that were pending before we even had time to discuss whether we had liked them.

A profusion of lilacs in the backyard

A profusion of lilacs in the backyard

Our house – our red house – was a for sale by owner. It turned up during my prodigious stalking of real estate websites and Cam and I did a drive-by, even though it was more than we’d planned on spending. The house was not in foreclosure, it had not been renovated and flipped. It was an old house that a family had done an enormous amount of work on because they planned to stay there, but with the birth of their third child they had outgrown it. They had put in radiant floor heating and refinished the original fir floors. They had put in a second bathroom and taken the walls down to the studs and then built them out again with smooth, beautiful plaster. Even most of the light fixtures (usually the first thing I envision changing in a place) were pretty.

This little red house was built in 1930. Though it’s right in town, it sits on almost 3/4 of an acre–it’s the only one in the neighborhood that hasn’t yet been subdivided. Last summer a friend of ours came over with his tractor to till a huge garden and we *cough* learned a thing or two about garden planning (but also managed to grow a lot of food).

The garden just after planting.  Don't mind the dilapidated tin shed...

The garden just after planting and before bindweed encroachment

I’ve lived here long enough now to see where work needs to be done, but I also continue to appreciate the incredible light, thoughtful details and sense of history. I feel comfortable enough in it that I’m ready to start adding our own layer of history – putting our own stamp on it – while respecting its past. Next week I’ll share a bathroom project that I’ve been working on. It’s so amazing how a paint job and a few small changes can bring out the beauty of a space. The big thing we’re beginning work on now – which I’ll share with you from inspiration to completion (completion! Ha! What hubris! It’s early days yet.) is a remodel of an upstairs bedroom into a guest room/office, including demolishing an old chimney casing, building a wall of bookcases and installing hardwood floors. I’m an avid thrifter and a novice at furniture restoration—I’m looking forward to sharing some of my good finds and my attempts at giving them new life.

I love the blogging community and the ready amount of inspiration and creative fodder available online. I’ve noticed, though, that the vicarious thrill I get from looking at other people’s projects somehow has a negative correlation to my own creative output. My ‘DIY’ bookmarks folder is bursting with ideas, my Pinterest pages are overflowing with inspiration, but somehow I’ve been more frequently stopping at the inspiration stage—rather than the making it stage. My hope is that by adding my voice and ideas to this community that I admire, I will find my way back to my maker self. Big bonus – and impetus for this project – is that my brilliant, creative and beloved friend Mera is writing this blog with me. Now we’re taking what was a dialogue about house projects, décor, inspiration found online and in print – and the behavior of our chubby cats – into the public sphere.

Please meet Dean, aka Fat Bunny

I’m pleased to introduce you to Dean, aka Fat Bunny

Thanks for joining us!

13 responses on “Katie’s House: Beginnings

      1. Katy Gilmore

        And I was thinking how I loved what you said about the process of doing the blog would return you to making. I think that is really true. Blogs make a great way to be accountable, and you and Mera are so appealing, you will soon have eager anticipators!

        1. k80bennett

          Making space and structure for creativity to flow is certainly something you know about! I’m looking forward to joining The Workroom next round 🙂

  1. Carol Crump Bryner

    Little red houses are so appealing. What fun that both you and Mera each have one. I grew up in a little red house back east and have loved red houses ever since. Can’t wait to read about all the projects..

  2. Susan Glassow

    I love the way you talk about respecting the history of your home while adding your history to it.

    Old houses have always called to me…the layers of wallpaper, the immense and handsome black silk umbrella found in the corner of the attic, glass medicine bottles harvested as we turn the soil for a new garden area. It’s a kind of archaeology, domestic middens, detailing life in the day.

    1. k80bennett

      There’s a corner of the garden that I refer to as the midden heap. We’re always turning up little artifacts of past lives. Love you mom!

  3. Marlene Miller

    Well you know I have a fondness for red houses… Anchorage, Eugene, Halibut Cove. 🙂 Mera, I fell in love with yours the minute I set foot in it, and Katie, seeing your photos, I’m now developing quite a little crush on your red house as well. I’m excited to follow your red house adventures! Miss you so much.

    1. k80bennett

      I second Mera’s idea for a Red House West Halibut Cove edition this summer! I love your art-filled house and miss you lots xo

Leave a Reply to Susan Glassow Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *